We get lots of requests from lawyers that go something like this: “We need you to translate a contract for us, but the translation must be done by a certified legal translator.”

This is a perfectly reasonable and justified request. After all, a lawyer wants assurance that the work requested will be done by a qualified provider, and rightly so. There is a lot riding on these things – the outcome of a case; the reputation of the lawyer. But after years of providing translation services to law firms, we’ve realized what lawyers are actually asking for when they request a certified legal translator. We’ll get to that later.

Here are some facts about certified translation that every lawyer must know:

  1. The “certified translator” does not exist in the United States. There is no such thing as a certified translator, much less a certified legal translator, in this country. This is not the case in countries like Argentina, Costa Rica, Mexico and many others where translators must pass a government-issued test and receive a license. In the United States, a translator becomes a translator when he/she translates. Having said that, a translator can become certified by the American Translators Association (ATA), a decades-old institution whose testing is quite stringent. The ATA also adheres to a code of ethics, which gives agencies like mine a great sense of comfort.

Still, much in the same way that a college degree doesn’t guarantee competence, certification doesn’t guarantee translation prowess or mastery. Further, the ATA only offers certification for certain language pairs. This means that the lawyers that call us (and many do) requesting translation from Indonesian or Greek or Farsi or Urdu, would never have their documents translated by a “certified translator” because the ATA does not offer certification in those languages. And even when the language pair is certified and the ATA-certified translator is talented and competent (and we’ve used many that are), the ATA only certifies by language combination, not by discipline. So, the fact that a translator is ATA-certified in Spanish to English, for example, doesn’t mean that she is specifically competent to translate legal, medical, engineering, or any other type of content … although many of them are experts in these and many other subject matters.

  1. Education and experience matter more than “certification.” ATA certification, for those professionals that choose to pursue it, is a valuable credential. But the translator best suited for a particular type of work is the one with two important credentials: education and experience.

Aside from the obvious requirement of perfect fluency in a language combination and writing ability, the legal translators we use have a combination of credentials. We have two excellent translators, for example, in the Spanish-English and French-English combinations. One is a lawyer with 20+ years of experience who decided to no longer practice law; the other has a translation degree with a legal specialty and decades of legal translation experience. We have others in other language combinations with similar credentials.

  1. The best way to ensure that you have a qualified legal translator (certified or not) is to go through a professional translation agency. A professional language services agency takes the time and effort to vet its linguists to ensure they have the right credentials to work on certain documents. The best agencies will match the translator to the needs of the project, for example, in those cases where knowledge of a specific legal discipline or a country’s legal code are required. An agency can also take the burden off a paralegal or office administrator in trying to find someone to translate (we know they have better things to do.) And even when a law firm relies on staff to locate translators, what about a large project that involves, say, 10, 50 or 500 different documents? An agency has the bandwidth to handle assignments of that size and larger, whether in one or several language combinations.

One benefit that TransForma offers its clients: we always look for ways to save the client money. This means that when we receive long documents, we always ask the client whether a summary translation would serve their purposes. In many cases, that entire 25-page public deed from Mexico isn’t necessary in English, and a 5-page summary translation will do. This can save, in many cases, 50% of the cost or even more. In the case of very repetitive content (such as, for example, hundreds of tax returns from Ecuador), we leverage repetitions to offer a discounted rate.

Finally, what lawyers are really asking for when they ask for “certified legal translation” is a certificate of accuracy. Many lawyers (particularly in immigration) require them in order to be able to file documents in court. What we (and other translation agencies) provide is an affidavit stating that the translator is competent to translate in the required language combination, and that the translation has been done to the best of the translator’s knowledge, ability and belief. At TransForma, we go a step further and have the affidavit notarized, to add an additional level of formality and credibility.

When you need professional legal translation, reach out to a professional translation service. TransForma can help you with all your translation needs, in just about any language. Contact us at request@transformaonline.com or at 305-722-3827 for a free quote.